Sumanta Sen
Since the time the Union home minister decided to deal sternly with the Maoists, it has been his aim to make the counter offensive a broad-based one, with active cooperation from the concerned states. In eastern India, the states are West Bengal, Bihar, Jharkhand and Orissa, but so far not much progress has been noticed in this direction. This is because administrative action cannot be expected to succeed to the desired extent if political perception does not give it top priority. In at least two of the states, Bihar and Jharkhand, the rulers have some real problems in seeing the Maoists as the principal enemy, as they are viewed by Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee in Calcutta and by P. Chidambaram in New Delhi.
Bihar, for instance. Both the components of today’s Communist Party of India (Maoist), the People’s War Group and the Maoist Coordination Committee were active in undivided Bihar, as was the overground Indian People’s Front. They worked among the poor backward castes and the harijan peasants of central Bihar, Jehanabad, Aurangabad, Gaya, and in the tribal-dominated plateau region of what was then south Bihar and is now Jharkhand. In central Bihar were also present the armed private armies of upper caste landlords, mostly Rajputs, who created terror among the hapless backwards, frequently turning the areas into killing fields. This brought them into clashes with the People’s War Group, and the state being Bihar, where everything is judged from the caste angle, the latter came to be known as champions of the backward castes. This was in the Eighties.
Since then things have changed. The various private armies are not much heard of these days as the upper castes no longer hold the whip hand in Patna. But in popular perception, in the vast countrysides, the Maoists still continue to be associated with the lower castes. Even the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) Liberation, which contests elections, has this perception to help it at poll times. So how can the chief minister of Bihar, Nitish Kumar, who also has the backward classes as his main prop for winning elections, be as enthusiastic as Bhattacharjee in waging a war against the Maoists?
Glaring lack
Another aspect of the situation has to be kept in mind. Historically, the Naxalites, and now the Maoists, have viewed the Marxists as their number one enemy, the ‘revisionists’ who stand in the way of an armed revolution by creating illusions about parliamentary democracy. In this respect, Nitish Kumar is not as important for them as Bhattacharjee is, and they feel that they need not be so hard on the former. This being the reality, Patna’s response cannot be the same as Calcutta’s.
Similar is the situation in Ranchi. Shibu Soren cannot be expected to alienate his tribal supporters by going with a gun among them in search of Maoists. Even if reports of Maoists helping out Soren at election time are not wholly correct, the strategy of bringing together the tribals of Jharkhand, West Bengal and Orissa fits in quite nicely with Soren’s plans of a greater Jharkhand. That plan may remain a pipe dream, but Soren cannot be too displeased if elements from his state use the jungle corridor to create problems for his counterpart in West Bengal, as neither has any love lost for the other.
Also, Jharkhand has for long been a haven for the Maoists, and now that they are concentrating more on the neighbouring state, Soren must be heaving sighs of relief. Little wonder then that Ranchi has done precious little to put checks on the Maoists.
The region thus lacks a political consensus on the way to tackle the Maoists effectively. And as long as such an agreement is not there, the menace will continue, and the Shilda carnage may well turn out to be the first in a series.